Remember John Edwards? He was the vice-presidential candidate on the Democrat ticket two elections ago, after all. He was also a major candidate for President in the last one, and he used to represent North Carolina in the Senate. He was all over the mainstream media for a while, because he was made for TV: a young, attractive candidate brimming with starry-eyed socialist ideas. He distilled class-warfare rhetoric into the straight moonshine of his “Two Americas” theme, in which class enemies – meaning people other than John Edwards who make over $200,000 per year – don’t even live in the same country as the downtrodden little guy. So great was his empathy that he could actually commune with the dead, as when he channeled the spirit of a little girl before a jury, to win a big-money lawsuit.
A while back, Edwards became profoundly unhelpful to the liberal cause, and his picture faded from newspapers and TV screens, to reappear on milk cartons. The media caught him having an affair on his cancer-stricken wife, an affair which produced an illegitimate daughter. When I say “media,” I mean “the National Enquirer,” but eventually the rest of them were shamed into covering the story, and John Edwards vanished in a cloud of hair spray and sanctimony.
Flash forward to February 2011, and John Edwards is threatening to reappear on the media radar, because a grand jury is asking the Attorney General to indict Edwards for violating election laws during the 2008 presidential election. The primary charge is the use of campaign funds to hide his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and keep his affair under wraps, but ABC News notes “the government has also been digging deeper into Edwards’ past, scrutinizing the transactions of a web of loosely-connected political committees, corporations and non-profit organizations associated with his failed campaign, looking for potential violations of campaign finance and tax laws.”
What kind of a world do we live in, where sleazy millionaire slip-and-fall lawyers can’t be relied upon to conduct their political business in a fair and open manner?
An extensive case has been built against Edwards, who eventually admitted to his affair with Hunter and paternity for her child, although during his finger-wagging days of strenuous denial, he assigned one of his top campaign aides to pretend he was the father. Despite a lack of qualifications, Hunter popped up in numerous high-level positions during the 2008 campaign at Edwards’ insistence, much to the annoyance of his other staffers. A lot of campaign money flowed into her pockets.
Hunter’s silence was apparently very expensive. The complex trail of paperwork chronicling the attempts to procure her hush money has tightened into a noose around John Edwards’ neck. MSNBC quotes George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg saying that “it would be surprising now if he wasn’t indicted.” Of course, Attorney General Eric Holder is full of surprises.
A successful prosecution will depend on proving Edwards knew about the improper use of campaign money to pay off Rielle Hunter, and also proving that Edwards’ deep-pocketed supporters were consciously making political donations. One of those supporters, a reclusive heiress named Rachel Mellon who is now a hundred years old, has claimed the vast sums of money she gave Edwards were a personal gift, not a campaign donation. John Edwards has a net worth approaching thirty million dollars, while Mellon’s “gifts” totaled over $700,000. If this legal dodge is allowed, then all campaign finance laws are absurd – why not just buy influence by giving lavish “gifts” to a favored candidate, freeing up an equivalent amount of his own “personal” funds for political activities?
I’ve always thought our campaign finance laws are absurdly complex, and counter-productive, because they make campaigns so much less transparent. However, the laws currently on the books must be enforced… and if they serve one vital purpose, it’s keeping characters like John Edwards far away from the levers of national power, especially the White House. Let’s hope the Attorney General does the right thing and issues those indictments, so we can finally be done with this awful man.